Monday, August 14, 2017

The road and the river

I'm grateful to Creative New Zealand for providing funds for the publication of Ghost South Road, a book that will match my words with the sumptuous and occasionally melancholy images of Paul Janman and Ian Powell

Ghost South Road will be published by Atuanui Press, and Creative New Zealand has also given Atuanui funds to bring out a book that Paul Moon has written about the history and present of the Waikato River. The Great South Road and the Waikato River flow beside one another for many kilometres, and Atuanui plans to bring out the two volumes at the same time, early next year. 


Brett Cross, the proprietor of Atuanui Press, sent me some chapters from Moon's book a few months ago. This was part of my response:


Over the past couple of decades Paul Moon has proven himself one of the most prolific and provocative intellectuals in New Zealand. 
Although he holds an important academic post and works assiduously in the archives of our academic and public libraries, Moon is unafraid of leaving the security of the seminar room and the stacks and entering the trenches of public debate. 

Moon's opinion pieces for newspapers, which have covered subjects as different as the contemporary significance of the Treaty of Waitangi, the meaning of freedom of speech, and the relationship of Christmas to Christian theology, have drawn on his research without seeming either fusty or recondite. Like Keith Sinclair and James Belich, Moon belongs to the tradition of the New Zealand public historian, who has an audience both inside and outside the university. 
It seems to me that Moon's new book stands a good chance of reaching a wide audience. Like Moon's pieces for our media, the book draws on careful historical research but is unafraid to discuss contemporary social and political issues. 

During his chapter on Ngaruawahia, for example, Moon uses his reading to reimagine that town during the era when it was the capital of the Waikato Kingdom, and a place where the river ran clearly. But Moon soon pivots from past to present, and decries the garbage he finds floating through Ngaruawahia, and the capitalist civilisation which has made garbage tips and dumps its supreme monuments. 

Not all readers with agree with Moon's nostalgia for the Kingitanga's communistic economy, or with his polemic against the present: but even those who differ with him will be stimulated and engaged by his mixing of objective scholarship and subjective judgment. 
I imagine that there might be some interesting debates at the launch of the two books and at any subsequent joint promotional events, because I don't agree with everything Paul Moon says, and I doubt whether he'd accept some of the things I write. In this blog post from 2009 I talked about some areas of (dis)agreement. 

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

'An intense radiation'

The people of Nukuoro, the remote, westernmost island of Polynesia, carved smooth, faceless wooden gods they called tino aitu, then sold these treasures to Western traders after abandoning their traditional religion for Christianity. 

In 2009 fifteen tino aitu were brought together for the first time in many years, at a museum in Switzerland where curators and anthropologists were holding a conference. Something strange soon began to happen: the gods seemed to be waking from their sleep, and 'charging' each other. 

Marion Melk-Koch, one of the scholars at the conference, said that she felt 'an intense radiation' when she stood between two tino aitu. At EyeContact I've written about the sumptuous and eerie book that records the 2009 conference and the alleged awakening of the gods of Nukuoro.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Going kava

Is kava the drug of the future? How would New Zealand change, if Kiwis swapped alcohol, P and the rest of our unhealthy drugs for the ancient elixir of the Pacific? In a piece for The Spinoff I've visited the kava clubs of Nuku'alofa and Port Vila, and talked a little about the developing kava scene in Auckland.  

Readers have noticed that the article contains a blunder. I claim to be able to buy half a kilogram of kava for six bucks at my local dairy in West Auckland. In fact, the bag I typically buy from my mates at the dairy weighs about one hundred and fifty rather than five hundred grams. Some readers have warned me that the stuff I'm buying is probably poor quality kava, and might even be mixed with flour. Kava prices are at a record high, partly because the drug is winning new fans in the West, and one hundred grams of good stuff ought to be costing me more than six bucks. 

Friday, August 04, 2017

Paper and mouths

Michael O'Leary has reviewed The Stolen Island for Landfall.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Kidnapping and street war: the O'Neill approach to coalition building

Update: O'Neill has just been reelected by parliament.

Down here in Niu Sila Prime Minister Bill English is thinking about how he might put together a coalition government after the upcoming election. His National Party won't win a majority of seats in parliament, so English has been making overtures to smaller parties like New Zealand First and United Future in the hope that their MPs will side with him in September.

In Papua New Guinea, though, Peter O'Neill has found some altogether more creative ways of constructing a coalition. O'Neill became Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea five years ago, and he isn't keen to give the job up, even though his People's National Congress party looks like winning only a small minority of the one hundred and eleven seats that went up for grabs in last month's general election.

Papuan elections are seldom straightforward affairs - the country's vertiginous terrain, hundreds of ethnic and linguistic groups, and poor infrastructure mean that it takes weeks for some ballots to be counted. Most Papuan polling stations closed on July the eighth, but by the end of the month only eighty of one hundred and eleven contests had been declared. That didn't stop O'Neill from insisting that he had assembled a coalition of fifty-six MPs. An alliance of opposition parties disagreed, but last week O'Neill was able to get the country's electoral commissioner and its governor-general to invite him to form a government.

After People's National Congress incumbents were declared losers in a series of seats, gangs of O'Neill's supporters hit the streets, burning the homes and the cars of opposition activists. In the highlands town of Wabag supporters of the opposition fought back, and more than a half a dozen people were killed. As they have flown into the Papuan capital of Port Moresby, newly elected opposition MPs have been met by police and by armed gangs of O'Neill's supporters. The police and the gangs have attempted to kidnap new MPs, so that they can 'persuade' these neophytes to back O'Neill for Prime Minister. Crowds of opposition supporters have begun to assemble at the airport, so that they can defend their representatives.

Papua New Guinea's parliament has not yet convened, so O'Neill's claims to have assembled a coalition have not been tested. Even if he does now command fifty-six votes in the house, the tactics he has used during and after polling discredit him. They also discredit the government of Australia, which has helped fund Papua New Guinea's elections. Aussie foreign minister Julie Bishop has repeatedly been asked about O'Neill's approach to coalition-building, and has repeatedly refused to condemn him. Many observers believe that O'Neill bought Bishop's silence by promising to support the Aussie refugee centre on Manus Island.

If Peter O'Neill can't get a majority when Papua New Guinea's new parliament finally meets, then there's every chance he'll use a politicised police force to again to intimidate his opponents. If the sort of confrontations that rocked Wabag spread to the metropolis of Port Moresby, then O'Neill would quickly require support from Australia's efficient and well-equipped security forces. Will Australian troops end up fighting for O'Neill's regime?

Keith Jackson is providing essential coverage of the crisis in Papua, as well as nourishing the country's writers.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Direen by drone


I'm looking forward to watching Simon Ogston's biopic of Bill Direen at the Film Festival next Friday, and to seeing Bill play live in West Auckland next Saturday.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Brash's ugly facebook

Karl du Fresne is upset at the left. The Wairarapa-based journalist has used his blog to link the recent anti-globalisation riots in Hamburg with the alleged ill-treatment of Don Brash here in New Zealand.
According to du Fresne, Brash and the Hamburg police are both victims of the 'self-righteous rage of the left'.

Brash is the frontman of Hobson's Pledge, a group set up last year to campaign against Maori seats in parliament, Treaty settlements, and all Treaty-based legislation. Hobson's Pledge can be seen as the successor to Treatygate, the campaign that John Ansell, another former Act Party personality, fronted back in 2012. Like Ansell, Brash has held public in country towns and placed expensive ads in the mass media. Like Ansell, he is struggling to win the public's attention. The audience for a widely advertised meeting in Rotorua was small and unenthusiastic.

In a recent post to facebook, Maori activist Joe Trinder described Hobson's Pledge as a 'hate group'. Karl du Fresne thinks such a description is outrageous. He argues that Hobson's Pledge was founded to 'promote the concept of equality before the law, regardless of ethnicity'. When he uses the term 'hate group' Trinder is trying, du Fresne complains, to put Hobson's Pledge on the 'same level as the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazi Party'. Du Fresne complains about some of the comments that appeared beneath Trinder's facebook post. Some commenters threatened Brash with violence; others suggested that Hobson's Pledge billboards should be torn down.

Karl du Fresne has obviously been paying careful attention to Joe Trinder's facebook posts, but I wonder whether he has visited the facebook page run by Hobson's Pledge. The page's anonymous administrators have made hundreds of posts, and attracted thousands of comments. If du Fresne scans some of the posts and comments, then he might find his belief that Hobson's Pledge stands for equality hard to sustain.
On  June the 11th Hobson's Pledge posted this image, which originally appeared on a facebook page called Southern African Memes. Like much of the material on Southern African Memes, the image is designed to call up fond of memories of the era of white minority rule in Rhodesia and South Africa, and to contrast the supposed golden age of apartheid with the present.

Between 1965 and 1979 Rhodesia's white community, which never numbered more than three hundred thousand, enjoyed political and economic power over more than six million blacks. Rhodesia's white regime barred blacks from voting and from most high-paying jobs, and restricted their ability to move about the country. Blacks and whites were forbidden from marrying and lived in separate neighbourhoods of the country's towns and cities. Cinemas had separate entrances for blacks and whites and restaurants had different rooms for diners with different skin colours.

Not surprisingly, Rhodesia's black majority protested the status quo, and in the 1970s waged a guerrilla war against their white masters. A deal brokered by Britain ended white minority rule, and in 1980 Robert Mugabe took power. The Rhodesian agricultural production that Hobson's Pledge celebrates was achieved with the help of indentured black labour. After the war began, the white regime deliberately kept grain and other foods from parts of the country where the guerrillas had most support, creating widespread malnutrition.

Robert Mugabe is a despot who has brought misery to many of his people. But Hobson's Pledge's suggestion that the white Rhodesia that preceded Mugabe era was somehow a pleasant place is fantastic. It is hard to see why an organisation dedicated to equality would seek to glorify a state based explicitly on racism.

The predecessor of Hobson's Pledge also seemed to have a soft spot for Rhodesia. The website of John Ansell's Treatygate campaign featured a long article by one of Ansell's supporters, the Dunedin anthroposophist Colin Rawle. Rawle's article insisted that Rhodesia 'was a success story by any yardstick', and lamented that it had been 'destroyed' by the same sinister forces that were advancing an 'anti-white' agenda in New Zealand.

When it hasn't been advertising white Rhodesia, the Hobson's Pledge facebook page has been promoting local white supremacists. Hobson's Pledge has offered a link to the website of Martin Doutre, the promoter of the theory that New Zealand was home thousands of years ago to a technologically advanced white civilisation that was later conquered by the ancestors of Maori. Doutre is a Holocaust denier and an admirer of the British neo-Nazi David Irving.

A couple of months ago the Northern Advocate ran a front page article about the supposed discovery of ancient Welsh skulls in the Northland countryside. The article credited Noel Hilliam with finding the skulls, and said that Hilliam was working with Martin Doutre and Kerry Bolton, the former secretary of the National Front and this country's most prolific neo-Nazi writer. Historians, northern kaumatua, and other journalists quickly pointed out that Hilliam has no academic training, and noted Doutre and Bolton's white supremacist views; the Northern Advocate dropped its article, and was later reprimanded by the Press Council for not checking Hilliam's weird claims before it published them.

The facebook page of Hobson's Pledge followed the controversy over the Northern Advocate's article closely, and repeatedly expressed outrage at the paper's critics. 'Where has freedom of speech gone?' the Hobson's Pledge page asked on July the 12th, after the Press Council had reprimanded the Northern Advocate.

It is curious that an organisation campaigning for equality would want to promote and defend the work of Martin Doutre, Kerry Bolton, and Noel Hilliam.
It is not only the posts at the Hobson's Pledge facebook page but the comments beneath them that make me sceptical about the group's commitment to equality. All too often these comments are schoolboyish expressions of racism toward Maori. This remark was made by Derrick Storey on June the 27th, in the aftermath of New Zealand's America's Cup victory:

The reason the America's Cup was so successful was because there were no Maori involved. Don't go and stuff it up by accommodating to their whims and tell them to piss off...There was a lot of Kiwi ingenuity, Blood, Sweat and Tears that went into winning the America's Cup and notice the overseas commentators referred to our team as the Kiwis or Team New Zealand. Not once did I hear the team referred to as Maoris or Team Maori. 

Derrick Storey hasn't been criticised for this comment or any of his other, similar comments by the administrators of the Hobson's Pledge facebook page. On the contrary, Hobson's Pledge has on occasion shared Storey's own facebook posts with its readers.

Karl du Fresne is right to criticise the commenters on Joe Trinder's facebook page who urged violence against Hobson's Pledge. Don Brash and his comrades have a right to free speech. But after looking at the self-righteous rage on Hobson's Pledge's facebook page, I can understand why Trinder has dubbed Don Brash's outfit a hate group.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]